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Spring ahead: use our 35-point preseason cleaning and maintenance checklist to ensure you spend more quality time on the water this summer.

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There's one in every marina or neighborhood. He's the guy who spends most of the weekend cleaning and waxing his boat. You're not him. You'd rather be using your boat, enjoying time with the family. The kids aren't this age forever.

On the other hand, you know a boat needs care if you expect it to start and function properly when you and the family head out on the water. You just prefer to be as efficient as possible with the task.

We mined our resources, used common sense and talked to the experts to arrive at this collection of spring cleaning and maintenance chores, which is divided into three types:

* Those you must do.

* Those that should be done and can be completed in a short amount of time.

* Those you might overlook but will come back to bite you later in the season.

Let's get started.

MUST-DO MAINTENANCE

Most don't-skip tasks are related to the propulsion and onboard systems. If the engine doesn't work, or the accessory you're trying to power up doesn't do its job, you're not leaving the dock.

You should have added a fuel stabilizer and an ethanol-combative additive when you winterized your boat. Before you start the boat, fill the tank with fresh fuel (1). During your first few outings, remove the fuel-water separator, empty it into a clear container so you can see how much water there is and refill it with fresh gas before reinstalling it (2). Do this a few times to ensure that your fuel quality is good.

Before starting the engine, remove the flame arrestor cover and visually inspect the carburetor or fuel-injection system to make sure no rodents have built nests in there (3). Also, make sure none of the electrical harnesses has been chewed (4).

You'll want to do the same with hoses and belts (5). After making sure these haven't been gnawed on, do a further inspection. The hoses should be firm, but not mushy with no soft spots or discoloration. If they're hard or cracking, get new ones. Don't forget the clamps, either. If they won't stay tight, it's time for new ones. Belts shouldn't be frayed or shiny. If they are, you know what to do.

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If your boat has a sterndrive, check the gear lube level in the reservoir (6). The fluid should have been changed in the fall, and some settling is normal, so top it off to the appropriate level.

Moving on to the drive or outboard, check the steering tube and cable to make sure that they are clean and properly lubricated (7). The cable should slide smoothly over the entirety of its operational range. Grease every zirk fitting on the drive, including those for the gimbal ring and bearing (8).

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Your next move is to make sure that the drive, lower unit or transmission shifts in and out of gear properly (9). For sterndrives and outboards, attach a pair of earmuffs to a garden hose, put them around the water intakes on the lower unit and turn on the water. Now start the engine (10). Once you know that water is flowing through the motor, shift the drive into forward. It should do so smoothly without grinding. Rev it up a little to ensure that everything is working smoothly. Do the same with the reverse gear. If anything feels like it's binding or not moving freely, it's probably time to replace the shift or throttle cable, especially on boats more than five years old.

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We know that the engine and drive work. Now it's time to move on to the electrical systems. Make sure the lights, horn and bilge blower (where appropriate) all work by turning on the switches (11). To test the automatic bilge pump and float switch, install the drain plug and fill the bilge with water (12). The float switch should trigger the pump when the water reaches the right height. If your boat has a head or sink, drain the nontoxic antifreeze and flush the water system with fresh water until it runs through cleanly (13).

Because the sun is gelcoat's worst enemy, you need to protect the boat against the sun's harmful rays. Wash the bottom, hull sides and deck with a boat-specific cleaner (14). Don't use dish detergent, because it strips the gelcoat. If the boat has a dark-colored stripe in the gelcoat, such as black or red, and it's slightly faded, use a fiberglass restorer or rubbing compound to bring it back to life (15). Then polish the boat with a good carnauba wax (16).

Your boat's other enemy is the dock where you tie it up. Make sure the dock has no bolts, screws or nails sticking out that will damage the boat when it bumps up against the dock (17).

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30-MINUTE TASKS

With the major systems covered, we'll move on to quick chores you can get out of the way in less than a half hour that will help your boat look better and make it through the season with ease.

Cockpit and bow covers protect your boat's interior and help keep it in better overall condition. Apply lip balm to all the snaps so the cover is easier to install and remove (18). Wash the covers with warm water and a mild detergent and let them air dry; then spray them with a protectant such as Star brite's Waterproofing and Fabric Treatment (19). It repels water and protects the fabric from harmful UV rays. If your boat has isinglass or EZ2CY, use a soft rag and Plexus plastic polish. Do not use paper towels.

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The easiest way to spruce up your snap-in carpets is to use a steam cleaner or take them to a local car wash, hang them up and pressure-wash them with a non-bleach soap (20).

If you want a multipurpose cleaner you can use to keep everything clean, it's Roll Off. Use it with a soft cloth to wipe down upholstery, fiberglass and even carpet. It's not bleach-based, so it won't harm fabrics. If you have moldy black spots, use Moldaway, which is a bleach-based cleaner, but follow the instructions and test it on an out-of-the-way spot (21). After cleaning the upholstery, wipe it down with 303 Aerospace Protectant to help it last longer (22).

For cuddy cabins, you should have hung a mildew bag when the boat was winterized, so to start the season use a Lysol-type spray. Then open all the hatches and ports to let the space air out (23).

Most engine and/or drive maintenance falls under the must-do chores, but here's a quick tip to make your out-drive or lower unit look better. Wipe it down with vinegar to remove the white scaling that often accumulates if you keep your boat in hard water (24). After this, if you think it's necessary, you can touch it up with some Phantom Black drive paint. Or you can wipe on an underwater antifouling wax, which also can be used on the boat if you don't want to bottom-paint it (25).

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I'LL DO IT TOMORROW

Finally, there are the tasks many people put off at the start of the season that will come back to haunt them. We know you're tired of toiling away, but these tasks should not be put off.

Check the battery terminals to make sure they're not corroded, and use a wrench to tighten them (26). Hand-tightening wing nuts is not enough. Also, inspect your battery's water level and top it off with distilled water if necessary (27). If your boat's battery is more than five years old, replace it, or at least take it to a local auto parts store to have it tested.

Anodes that protect the aluminum components on your engine and drive are called sacrificial because they are. They wear away over time and need to be checked. If more than one-third of the material on an anode has deteriorated, replace it. And make sure you're using the right anode for the water where you go boating (28). They are made from different materials for fresh and salt water.

Don't forget your propeller nut and cotter pin, if applicable. If your propeller nut is a nylon-lined locking nut and the internal nylon is peeling off the threads, get a new one (29). For propshafts that still have a cotter pin that goes on the end (like those on small Yamaha outboards), if the same pin has been repeatedly bent over and restraightened for a few years, it's time for a new one (30).

Make sure your fire extinguisher is up to date and current, for two reasons (31). First, if it isn't and you're boarded by the Coast Guard Auxiliary or local law enforcement, you'll get cited. Second, if you actually need to put out a fire, a years-old unit won't be as effective. If you're required to have flares on board, make sure they are current, too (32).

We know you're diligent about making sure your kids' life jackets are in good condition, because they wear them on every trip, but what about the other personal flotation devices on board? Go through all of them and replace those that are torn, waterlogged or mildewed (33). Like your fire extinguisher, PFDs are only necessary in an emergency, but you don't want to find out that one or two are worthless during those panicked moments.

To make sure it's also ready later, check your grounding gear, including the shackles and cotter pins on your anchor rode (34). Make sure the stainless steel wire or tie-wrap that goes through the shackle pin is intact. The same goes for your mooring if you keep your boat attached to one when it's not in use (35). If you keep your boat in a slip, dock lines should not be stiff or brittle. They should be pliable and easy to tie knots with.

You need to take care of your boat if you expect it to take care of you. But you won't need to spend the entire weekend getting the job done.

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TIPS

You can't beat personal experience when it comes to taking care of your boat, so we chatted up seasoned boaters from around the country to determine their priorities during spring preparation. All agreed on the importance of fuel system maintenance, replacing batteries every other year and making sure safety gear is in good shape; let's see what else they pinpoint.

* Warren Kosikov, Agoura Hills, Calif. A frequent long-distance trailerboater with his 18-foot Galaxy, Kosikov makes sure his trailer's wiring and lights are operational. He also gets gelcoat repairs out of the way early in the season so they have ample time to cure instead of doing them last minute and not allowing the repair enough time to cure.

* Fred Hamilton, Naples, Maine Hamilton, the Detail Department manager at Moose Landing Marina, said the most neglected items he sees are the trim and tilt tubes on outboard motors and the sacrificial anodes on engines as opposed to those on drives.

* Dave Patnaude, Point Pleasant, N.J. The president of New Jersey Performance and Powerboat Club starts with a written punch list in the fall when he puts away his boat. His first task is applying multiple coats of wax to protect the gelcoat from the sun and salt. On the inside, he recommended cleaning the bilge while the boat is out of the water so that whatever harsh chemicals you use can drain out of the plug, into a bucket and be disposed of properly.
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Title Annotation:feature: spring checklist
Author:Colby, Eric
Publication:Boating World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2011
Words:1943
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